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Signature Aviation dog fight ends as GIP bids with Blackstone and Cascade

Yadarisa Shabong
·2-min read

By Yadarisa Shabong

(Reuters) - A bidding war for Signature Aviation took a new twist on Friday as former Gatwick owner GIP joined forces with Blackstone and Bill Gates' investment vehicle on an offer valuing the private jet services firm at $4.73 billion.

Signature said it was recommending the new proposal and had withdrawn its support for a previous offer by GIP, which last month raised its bid to $5.50 per share.

This topped a $5.17 joint offer last month by Blackstone and Signature's top shareholder, Cascade.

The latest offer of $5.62 per share could end a months-long takeover battle for London-listed Signature, which at one point attracted interest from private equity firm Carlyle.

"We await with interest to see whether Carlyle or any other interested party make a higher offer," Peel Hunt analysts said.

The latest cash offer is to buy all of Signature's shares other than the 19.01% owned by Cascade Investment and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust.

Signature's shares were were down 2.7% at 413 pence by 0841 GMT, but still above the new 411 pence ($5.62) offer price.

Interest from big buyout firms comes as the private jet industry is faring better than commercial airlines as wealthy travellers avoid crowded planes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Signature rejected an initial approach from New York-based GIP in December, saying the price was lower than the proposal outlined by Blackstone.

The stock has jumped nearly 60% since Blackstone's takeover interest was first disclosed in December, which Signature then said was its sixth such proposal.

GIP, which still manages a 49.99% stake in Gatwick, and Blackstone will each own 35% of the Signature bidding consortium, while Cascade will own 30%.

(Reporting by Yadarisa Shabong and Muvija M in Bengaluru; Editing by Devika Syamnath and Alexander Smith)